4.11 Adult Bully
You know that feeling of being in a situation and never able to properly express yourself? And later, lying awake at night, or waiting for the bus the next morning, you come up with the perfect response? I am VERY familiar with that feeling. All the attention being paid to bullying is a good thing. I was never beat up, but I was a figure skater, which brought with it its own kind of teasing. Mostly people were indifferent to me, much like now. I guess some things don't change. I did my share of making fun of people, much like now. I made fun of people lower on the social ladder and realize that I was just pushing the bad feelings down the hierarchy. I used sarcasm to make fun of people who deserved it. Ha! See how I changed that around? Deserve it? How's that determined? I'm not proud of making fun of certain people back then, but now, I try to direct these powers at those who deserve it, and I'm revered for being witty and clever. Well, not so much revered. And witty could be interchanged with bitter.
What do these kid bullies grow up to be? They grow up to be adult bullies. Strictly in my opinion, bullies are insecure people who are out to attain power or maintain power over others. Stanley Kubrick said, "My great principle in life: always be suspicious of people who have, or crave, power." Bullying is all about power dynamics and I find it fascinating.
Take politics. I cringed at a video of a standoff between Toronto City Councilors Giorgio Mammoliti and Gord Perks. Mammoliti is a typical bully. Before the altercation, he was kicked out for making an outlandish statement. Instead of leaving, he went up to sit with the press, which was clever - if anything happened, it'd be recorded. And it was, you can see the exchange HERE. Enter Perks, getting in his face and calling him a bully. Mammoliti calmly replied that he's the one feeling bullied. Classic defense.
Here are some observations about adult bullies.
1. The adult bully has evolved his or her methods from their youth. It is not physical but manipulative and indirect behavior. For example, they will spread rumors and develop a narrative that suits their purpose.
2. They are nice to your face, provide certain advantages to you that on the surface seem beneficial. If an adult bully is being friendly, they want something from you.
3. When you confront them directly - say, like an adult - they will get defensive. Keep your calm, unlike Perks, because they're on the ropes. This defensiveness is perhaps the most interesting part and why they move indirectly. It's wild to see an adult bully being confronted and they actually put their hand on heart with hurt expression. The reason for the indirectness is so there is no actual thing for you to point to that they are doing.
4. If an adult bully is going after you, it means you threaten them in some way. Which means you're probably doing something right.
5. Give it time. Most adult bullies don't last. They either lose interest and move on or spin such a complicated web that they're forced to leave. Screw these people. I think the rest of us are getting tired of it anyway.
Okay, so here’s a story. I’m working at this job a few years ago – not happy, things were not going well. I kept butting heads with the people we contracted to work on a marketing project. Pure alpha males – throwing footballs around the office, lots of chest bumping and shoulder slapping.
We were in this meeting and I was asked to take on yet more work, most likely because I’d do it. This one former colleague, sitting across from me, looking at me straight in the eyes with this strange look, said, “Paul will do it because he’s weak. You’re weak.” I didn’t disagree with him or fight him on this, even when he repeated it, I guess in case I didn't get it the first time. I was more surprised, perhaps because this was outside of the classic bully move – he was being direct. But I took it and I hated myself for it. As I hate myself a little bit more each time this happens. If someone called you weak, wouldn’t you want to punch this guy in the head?
Putting aside that this guy’s an asshole. Trust me, I tried to humanize him, tried to ask about his family, about his kids. Couldn’t do it. For a while, I was interested in the psychology of these people – what drives them, why they feel it necessary to shit on other people. Soon, I really didn’t care to know. It’s their problem, not mine.
Weak? I felt he was trying to hit me deep at a place where I felt vulnerable. Naturally, I didn’t say anything, I missed the moment to say anything. You only have that moment, a brief space of time where you can say your piece. Maybe he was right. Maybe I was weak. I remember feeling very angry about this, and here I am still writing about it, so lots of residual anger remains. As per usual, I just held it all in. And I guess this is how these people win, when you do not hit back. Thinking back on this, something did occur to me – I was sad for this person, who through other observations, obviously had some issues to work out but clueless when it came to self-awareness. Sad, because although I might be perceived as weak to them, I have the aptitude for change, the ability to steer my own actions into a different direction.
And now writing this, I'm sad for other reasons. Sad for myself that I would have such a lack of self-respect that I allowed and continued to allow people to put me down and call me names. How childish this all is and what happened along the way for me to be called weak, and in some way believe this person to the extent that I had no recourse. The name calling and power grabbing was childish. My reaction was childish. How to move past this?
I guess I have to figure out why someone would perceive me as weak. It's a question I've pondered because I couldn't have done half the shit I had if I was actually weak. So, what happened to me along the way? I don't know. I'm still trying to figure it out.
I'm trying to get better at that moment, trying to stay in the moment, to feel that energy being bandied about, thrown around, angled at me. The problem is I lose my train of thought, I go off the rails, can't think, not sure what to say. But something happened not too long ago, where I started pushing back, in little inconsequential ways first, but trying to take the anger directed at me, twisting it, and like a boomerang, rebound it back. And the thing is, my anger somewhat dissipated, the hostility towards myself started disappearing. I just want to make sure that these assholes know that I am here and if you push me, I’ll push you back. Because really, what the hell difference does it make? Life is too goddamn short to walk around holding all this in. All it takes is a moment.
Take it or leave it.